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ToS ^2oC? 

enya Birds 

Hit iMA'i UHAL 
H1STO p V M i tSfFUM 

2 1 FEB 2007 

Volume 11:2 

November 2006 


Birds of parks and gardens in Nairobi: 
Clockwise from top: Baglafecht 
Weaver female and male, Singing 
Cisticola, Red-billed Firefinch, 
Common Bulbul. 
Photos by Peter Usher. 

Kenya Birds Volume 11 number 2 

EB 2007 


Feature Articles 

5. Birds in the City 
Who's in town? 


1 1 . Thousands of Lesser 
Flamingos on Lake 

The alkalization of Lake 

22. Avian Flu 

What we know and What you 
can do 

42. Aberdare Cisticola 
Endemic bird at risk 

Nesting Reports 

16. Rosy-patched Bush Shrike 

17. Chestnut Weavers 

19. Black-and-white Cuckoo 

20. Challenge of fieldwork 

21. Eagle at Kinangop 
28. Robin-Chat Repertoire 


24. Migration at Ngulia 2004 
Nature Kenya & partners 

- 29. Nature Kenya at the coast 

- 29. Site Support Groups build 
eco-resource centres 

- 30. Committees & Projects 

-31. Site Action Plans for 
Important Bird Areas 

- 34 Critical Ecosystems 
Partnership Fund 

- 35 Tropical Biology 

37. Waterbird Report 04-06 
40. Waterbird Report 03-04 

Short Notes 

4. Letters 

9. City Weavers 
10. Fruiting Fig Tree 
18. Oriole Finch in Mau forest 

On the Cover 

African Goshawk, a raptor of 
Nairobi gardens and forests. 
Photographed by Peter Usher 
on a Wednesday Morning 






The East Africa Nature History Society 

Kenya Birds is published jointly by the Department of Ornithology of the National 
Museums of Kenya and the Bird Committee of the East Africa Natural History 
Society. The EANHS is BirdLife in Kenya and Uganda. 

The Bird Committee also publishes Scopus, an ornithological journal. For more 
information, contact the Nature Kenya office. 

© Nature Kenya - the East Africa 
Natural History Society - 2006 

ISSN 1023-3679 

Editor: Fleur Ng'weno 

Collaborating Editors: Catherine 
Ngarachu, Serah Munguti 

Printed by Colourprint 

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Articles and notes for Kenya Birds 

Editor, Kenya Birds, Nature Kenya, P.O. Box 44486 GPO, Nairobi 00100, Kenya 
E-mail: <> or <> 

Records and Nest Record Cards 

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Birds and Scopus subscriptions 

Nature Kenya, P.O. Box 44486 GPO, Nairobi 00100, Kenya 

Phone (020) 3749957 or 3746090, fax 3741049 

E-mail: <> website: 

November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Letter from the ^Editor 

Welcome to this issue of Kenya 
Birds, and once again apologies for 
its very late appearance. 

Nairobi ranks first among capital 
cities in terms of birds recorded 
- over 600 species. In this issue, 
articles and short notes celebrate 
the joys of birding in the city. The 
photos of Peter Usher, mainly 
taken in Nairobi, brighten the outer 

Please note that the names of 
the birds used in this publication 
are the ones given in the Check- 
list of the Birds of Kenya, Third 
Edition, EANHS, 1996. Some 
changes have since been made in 
the nomenclature, but in order to 
"speak the same language," we are 
using the 1996 checklist until a new 
one is published. Scientific names 
have been left out, unless there is a 
special reason to use them. 

On the down side, sudden bird 
deaths have made media headlines. 
When many birds die, we think of 
Avian Influenza, or bird flu. This, 
at present, is a disease of chickens, 
mainly found in South-East Asia, 
and sometimes infecting a few 
people. Now avian flu has spread to 
other parts of the world (including 
parts of Africa), becoming a global 
concern. And because there is a 
small chance that it could mutate 
and infect many people, it causes 

widespread fear. 

This year, however, we have 
learned that many other causes 
affect bird populations. For 
example, massive deaths of doves 
recently reported from southern 
Kenya may be due to contamination 
of waterholes or seeds with 
pesticides. In this issue, articles 
look at flamingo deaths in Kenya, 
and the global threat of avian flu. 
Readers will also find reports 
on research, conservation and 
advocacy activities. The Records 
section, however, has once again 
been postponed. 

It's been two years since our 
Mystery Bird Photo Contest! 
Congratulations to our two 

Joseph at Kichwa Tembo in the 
Masai Mara, and John Start, 
all the way from Australia (but 
evidently with good memories of 
East Africa) 

For those of you who remember 
the competition, the birds were: 

1. Augur Buzzard, Buteo augur 

2. Ruff, Philomachus pugnax 

3. Eurasian Thick-knee or Stone 
Curlew, Burhinus oedicnemus 

With thanks to Itai Shanni for the 
photos, and many apologies from 
me for the long delay. 

Jleur tyj'zveno 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Internet Articles on Birds in Swahili 

There is a Wikipedia in Kiswahili! 
Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia 
on the Internet, to which anyone 
can contribute. To find English 
or Swahili wikipedia, sw.wikipedia. 
org, go to < http://www.wikipedia. 
org > 

I have already contributed a 
number of articles on birds to the 
Swahili wikipedia, but there is a 
lot of ground to cover and my time 
is limited. That is why I wanted to 
ask whether there are Nature Kenya 
members who might be willing to 
write articles in Swahili, on birds or 
indeed any other nature subject. 

Any interested people should 
visit the site to see how it works. 
They can correct and expand my 
articles and/or contribute new ones. 
Anyone who has problems with 
the special syntax or has a slow 

connection, could mail articles to 
my Yahoo mailbox and I would then 
edit and upload them to the site. I 
hope you will find this something 
worthwhile and will try to interest 
the members. 

I have to warn that people have 
to do this for free. I am sometimes 
asked whether contributors are paid 
but the answer is no. It is done for 
the love of the language and/or 

With best wishes, 

Christiaan Kooyman 

Insect Pathologist 

International Institute of Tropical 

Agriculture, Biological Control 

Centre for Africa 

08 B.R 0932 Tri Postal 

Cotonou, Benin 


Cut-throat Finch Breeding in Mugie, North Laikipia, 
at 2,000 metres altitude 

Here in North Laikipia, 0°42'N 
and 3°36'E, Cut-throat Finches are 
breeding at a high elevation of 2000 
metres a.s.l.. 

On 1 8 September 2005, 1 noticed 
a great commotion under an Olive 
tree with a breeding colony of 
Speke's Weavers. A juvenile Cut- 
throat Finch, just feathered enough 

to flutter after very concerned 
parents, had dropped from an 
overhanging Speke's Weaver nest 
where it had been hatched and 

Peter Faull 

Samburu Trails Trekking Safaris 

Box 40, Maralal 20600 

November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Who's in Town? 

Birds in the City 

Nicholas Wambugu 
artwork by Peter Gaede and Nani Croze 

Nairobi quite rightly lays 
claim to being the only 
major capital city with 
large mammals roaming wild in its 
very backyard. As for birders, you 
need not go out of the city centre 
at all. At the very heart of the city, 
an interesting array of garden birds 
eke out an existence in this most 
unlikely of places (albeit at reduced 
densities), flying between imposing 
skyscrapers, hopping along paths or 
just twittering amongst the city's 
trees and shrubs. 

Of course an attempt to draw 
up a conclusive list encounters 
the common problem of where 
to draw the boundaries, and what 
birds really constitute the "City's". 
I overcame this double hurdle by 
listing 43 truly resident or regular 
visitors that one shouldn't be 
surprised to encounter while in the 
central business district, CBD. 

Further, I settled for the part of town 
bounded by Uhuru Highway, Haile 
Selassie Avenue, and the Nairobi 
River along Kirinyaga road. That 
therefore excludes the impressive 
entries from Uhuru Park and the 
National Museums grounds, both 
literally a lunch break walk from 

Black Kites and 
Pied Crows are 
too ubiquitous 
to warrant more 
than a mention 
here. For the Laughing Dove and 
Red- winged Starling, however, the 
CBD may be as good a place as any 
other in the wider Nairobi area to 
encounter them. Both species nest 
in dark cleavages and clefts of 
buildings, though the doves may 
utilise low hanging branches and 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 

t\\ i lis. (They would also appear to be 
erronously named, as their soft coo 
is more mournful than "laughter".) 
Whilst both may be encountered 
feeding on the ground, where they 
have become quite habituated 
to unconcerned passers-by, the 
starlings supplement this diet with 
fruits. They are unmistakable deep 
blue-black birds with long tails and 
reveal the conspicuous reddish- 
brown section on the wings in 
flight. The female is distinguished 
from the male by its grey head and 
neck regions. 

The birding hot-spots within the 
CBD are undoubtedly the Jeevanjee 
Gardens and the Aga Khan walk 
(near the Kenyatta International 
Conference Centre). A resident 

pair of Common 
Fiscals is hard to 
miss at Jeevanjee 
Gardens, as is a pair 


of Hadada Ibis that frequently 
build their nest there. Also look 
out for African Paradise flycatcher 
and White-bellied Tit. The tit is a 
small bird that searches twigs and 
branches for its insect food. Its 
harsh two to three tccchh tccchh call 
is unmistakable and revealing. 

At the Aga Khan walk, look for 


one of several Bronze Mannikins 
who with the onset of the rains are 
busy constructing 
nests in full view 
of oblivious Nairobians who 
supposedly have more pressing 
issues to mind. There are also 
Red-billed Firefinches, but these 
are more discreet in their nesting 
habits. It turned out to be a lucky 
day when at this spot I encountered 
a Red-tailed Shrike, and what 
from a distance must have been 
a Spotted Flycatcher, two birds 
^ perhaps in town to 
^m book their pending 

f^^ flights northwards. 

This too is the 
ideal spot for the 
African Pied Wagtail. 

That said, a longer list of 
regulars may be encountered at 
either of these places or any other 
leafy spot. Speckled Mousebird, 
Common Bulbul, Olive Thrush, 
Baglafecht Weaver and Streaky 
Seedeater qualify for this category. 
They depend on the various trees 
and shrub hedges that adorn 
many city streets for their food, 
supplemented with pickings from 
restaurants floors and leftovers. 
Not to be missed are Bronze and 
Variable Sunbirds which sample 
the ornamental flowers for nectar. 

A most delightful set of 
birds, Montane and 
Abyssinian White-eyes, 
are nevertheless easy to 

November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

miss. These small birds travel in 
small parties of four to seven very 
much like the Mousebirds. Their 
greenish yellow plumage encrypts 
perfectly with the foliage amongst 
which they scamper incessantly 
for their small organisms food, 
twittering all the while. White-eyes 
hardly ever leave the leafy foliage 
except when flying from one tree 
to the next. When they feed on low 
hanging twigs however, they are 
amazingly bold and accepting of 
human proximity. 

Inevitably, the city centre 
and especially the two hot spots 
benefit much from spill over birds 
from Uhuru Park and the forested 
suburbs. It is in this light that one 
may encounter Klaas' Cuckoo, 
albeit more often heard than seen. 
Indeed, with birds, one can never 
rule out the possibility of a surprise 
turning up. 

Not to be mistaken for the 
hundreds of Feral Pigeons, there 
also exist Speckled Pigeons, big- 
sized, spectacular members of their 
group, observed flying high atop 
some of the tallest buildings. Strong 
fliers, these birds probably fly tens 
if not hundreds of kilometres in 
their daily quest for food. Red-eyed 
Doves are also met at quieter, well- 

wooded spots and grassy lawns. 

Another of the building- 

^ dependent birds are 

_ ^k the hard to miss 

**^J Little Swifts which 

^f skim the city skies 

^ effortlessly in flocks 

that get bigger and extremely noisy 

as night approaches, when they 

constantly engage in screeching 

dives close to their roosting quarters. 

These comprise of colonies in 

untidy "villages" under inaccessible 

overhangs or roof protrusions, 

which are nevertheless easy to 


Less obtrusive but no less present 
are the African Rock Martins that 
also attach their nests to buildings, 
and the African Palm Swifts. The 
palm swifts, perhaps the most 
slender of birds, occur as their 
name aptly suggests where there 
are palm trees whose dry hanging 
fronds they rely on for breeding. 
The city's colony is located in the 
vicinity of the old bus station whilst 
another colony occurs at Uhuru 
Park. Red-rumped Swallows are 
much rarer, while Barn Swallows 
are particularly evident during their 
migratory season here. 

Besides the Red- winged Starling, 
there are Superb and Greater Blue- 
eared (Glossy) Starlings. The 
Greater Blue-eared Starling, an all 
iridescent blue, dove-sized bird, 
is a widespread bird in the central 
areas of Kenya, though nowhere 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 

common. It is most likely to be 
encountered as a visitor in quieter 
parts of the city or along Uhuru 
Highway, calling repeatedly - a 
series of staccato syllables repeated 
inconsistently. Superb Starlings 
are unmistakably impressive (and 
at places very) common bird of 
places slightly lower and drier 
than Nairobi, but still abound in 
open gardens and parklike country 
within the city. They travel in loose 
flocks and visit the city mainly from 
Uhuru Park. 

The largest city birds are 
undoubtedly the Marabou Storks 
who visit the grounds of Parliament 
buildings and dumps along the 
Nairobi River from their breeding 
grounds over Uhuru Highway. 
Next is the Black-headed Heron, 
met along the Nairobi River where 
several birds linger around the grassy 
valley. Here too I've met Yellow 
Wagtails, and the surrounding scrub 
holds several species of Cisticola. 

The Hamerkop perhaps warrants 
entry into this list, owing to its 
prevalence on the very outskirts, 

where several pairs are breeding. 
Like the Marabou, their numbers 
might have risen in recent times 
around the city owing to collapse of 
the drainage system, thus providing 
easy pickings of tadpoles. 

Finally raptors are represented 
by Great Sparrowhawks, a number 
of which make regular forays into 
the city to prey on the abundant 
pigeons; Falcons (Peregrine or 
Lanner), which are constant visitors, 
perhaps to prey on swifts and small 
birds; the Little Sparrowhawk, a 
dove-sized cousin of the Great 
Sparrowhawk which also preys on 
birds; and Augur Buzzard which 
I've seen on a few occasions. Even 
rarer, and a fitting way to end, is the 
stately Long-crested Eagle, which 
I've spotted at the river looking for 
the many garbage rats along this 
heavily polluted stretch. 

I obviously do not pretend to 
draw up a conclusive list. Many 
other birds do make occasional, 
perhaps even frequent, visits to 
the city centre, but I've missed 
them on my regular movements 
as Nairobi is by no means a small 
town. A good number do indeed 
fly overhead but have very little 
if any interest in town, hence not 
deserving of mention here. So next 
time you happen to be in town and 
have some spare time with you, just 
look around, you never know who 
else's in town. 

November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Village Weavers at home in the City 

The Black-headed Weaver, Ploceus 
cucullatus, is likely to be known as 
the Village Weaver in future; that 
name is already widely used. And 
indeed this bright yellow bird with 
a black head and red eye is a home 
in urban places. 

Generally speaking, Black- 
headed Weavers are more common 
in the northern and western parts 
of Nairobi, and less common to 
the east and south. In the last 30- 
odd years, they have only been 
occasional visitors to my garden. In 
September 2005, however, I began 
to hear Black-headed Weavers 
singing in the treetops. 

Next door, apartment buildings 
were going up. The builders had 
left a tall Grevillea robusta tree 
standing, however, between two 
blocks of flats. A pair of Black 
Kites decided that this isolated 
tree, with digging, bulldozing, 
hammering and cement-mixing 
going on all around it, was just the 
place for a nest. The kites had built 
a large nest and were incubating. 

The Black-headed Weavers 
also decided that this tree, with an 
active kite's nest and the digging, 
bulldozing, hammering and cement- 
mixing around it, was the right 
place to start a nesting colony. The 
males were busily building, singing 
and displaying in the high branches, 
all around the kites' nest. 

John Banks 


choice of 


must have 


even more ideal when they 

discovered our birdbath in 


The nests were quite high and I 
could not see them very well. Once 
the weavers became regular users of 
the birdbath, however, I was able 
to observe the birds more closely. 
One day, I saw a male with a metal 
ring! I guessed that this bird must 
once have lived or passed through 
the National Museums grounds. 
The Nairobi Ringing Group has a 
bird-ringing programme there most 
Thursday mornings, and has ringed 
dozens of Black-headed Weavers. 

The sounds of Black-headed 
Weavers were a constant through 
the months of October and 
November, almost drowning out 
everything else. In December, 
however, they became quiet. It 
was almost a relief. I guessed that 
the young had hatched and were 
being fed - or perhaps had already 
fledged. Possibly nesting failed 
because of the drought, although 
Nairobi received a few days of rain. 
No Black-headed Weavers were 
seen in mid-December, and only 
occasional birds in the next two hot 
and dry months. 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 

By late February 2006, however, 
just before unseasonal rains ended 
the drought in Nairobi, Black- 
headed Weavers were singing 
again. New nests were being built 
in the lone Grevillea tree, where the 
Black Kite had fledged and left. On 
March 9, I saw a male with a ring 
at the birdbath. 

The story of the nesting weavers 

was brought to an abrupt end a 
couple of days later, when the 
Grevillea tree was cut down. The 
weavers stayed around for a few 
days and then left. Somewhat to my 
relief, they did not choose any of 
our trees. They probably went out 
looking for a busier intersection for 
their nesting colony. 

Fleur Ng'weno 

Fruiting fig tree in Spring Valley garden 

Over a period of about 2 weeks 
from 12 th January 2006 to the end 
of the month, a large wild fig tree 
(Ficus thonningii) came into fruit 
in the garden of my home in Spring 
Valley, Nairobi. Readers will 
recall it was very dry at the time; 
consequently, the tree became alive 
with birds. 

In fact, one afternoon, we had 10 
Silvery-cheeked Hornbills gorging 
themselves on the fruit in the tree. 
Also, throughout the period the 
tree was full of large numbers of 
Speckled Mousebirds, Common 
Bulbuls and Olive Thrushes. 

To be included in my count, 
the bird had to actually land in the 
tree. Over the 2 week observation 
period I saw a total of 35 different 
species during the day time, and at 
night the tree was visited by many 

Not bad for one tree in a Nairobi 
suburban garden! 

The full list of birds recorded: 

Hadada Ibis, Black Kite, African Green 
Pigeon, Hartlaub's Turaco, Speckled 
Mousebird, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, 
White-headed Barbet, Spot-flanked 
Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, 
Lesser Honey guide, Grey Woodpecker, 
Common Bulbul, Slender-billed 
Greenbul, Olive Thrush, White-eyed 
Slaty Flycatcher, Blackcap, Willow 
Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, 
Montane White-eye, Abyssinian White- 
eye, White-bellied Tit, Chin-spot Batis, 
African Paradise Flycatcher, Black- 
backed Puffback, Black Cuckoo-shrike, 
Pied Crow, Violet-backed Starling, 
Collared Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, 



by John 


Amethyst Sunbird, Baglafecht Weaver, 
Red-billed Firefinch, Bronze Mannikin, 
Village Indigobird, Streaky Seedeater. 
Total 35 species. 

Philip Hechle 

<hechle @ wananchi .com> 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Thousands of Lesser 

Flamingos at Lake 


by David Harper 1 2 , Muchane Muchai 2 , Dominic Kamau 2 and 

Timothy Mwinami 2 

Department of Biology, University of Leicester 1 & Department of 

Ornithology, National Museums of Kenya 2 

Flamingo artwork by Edwin Selempo 
<> <> 

In the second half of 2006, there 
were several newspaper reports 
of a sudden increase in Lesser 
Flamingos at Lake Naivasha, 
and that they were dying in large 
numbers there and at Lake Nakuru, 
because of pollution and toxic water. 
Readers with a cynical disposition 
might suspect that, yet again, the 
only news that newspapers like is 
bad news and if bad news doesn't 
exist, then reporters can twist the 
facts around. 

The belief that Lesser Flamingos 
are being poisoned by humans has 
been around for about 15 years. 
A mortality of several thousand 
birds occurred at Nakuru in the 
early 1990s. The World Wide Fund 
for Nature (WWF), who at that 
time had a conservation project 
there, speculated in the press and 
on the Internet that heavy metals 
were causing the mortality, but 

proof of this statement was never 
published. A second mortality 
occurred in the mid 1990s, and 
then between 1999 and 2000 a 
very large mortality occurred at 
Lake Bogoria. David Harper and 
staff of the Museums' Ornithology 
Department were studying that lake 
during this mortality. There were 
about a million birds on Bogoria 
in early 2000, dying at a rate of 
about 700 a day. All ages died, even 
birds recently fledged. There are no 
sources of heavy metal pollution at 
Bogoria and it is highly unlikely 
that some birds could pick it up in 
Nakuru, fly to Bogoria and then die 
among hundreds of healthy birds. 

A flamingo lives for about 
40 years or so, roughly 15,000 
days. (See Kenya Birds, volume 
11:1). Asa back-of-the-envelope ' 
calculation, that means from a 
million birds about 70 are dying 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


each day, naturally. But no animal 
populations have regular deaths, 
so perhaps flamingo mortality 
events are part of this irregular 
fluctuation of their environment? Is 
it a coincidence that each mortality 
event occurred at a lake where the 
numbers of flamingos were close a 
million, and during or at the end of 
a long drought in the country? 

From 2002, scientific papers 
from a group of German and Kenyan 
scientists led by Lothar Krienitz 
began to produce new evidence: that 
levels of toxins, naturally produced 
by cyanobacteria (commonly 
called blue-green algae), had been 
measured in Kenyan soda lakes and 
hot springs (Krienitz et al, 2003). 
The toxin levels might be high 
enough to kill Lesser Flamingos. 
A few dead flamingos were found 
in 2002 (although there were no 
big mortalities at this time) that 
when analysed, had levels of these 
toxins high enough to perhaps 
have killed them. These high levels 
were not found on a repeat visit 
in 2004. Inevitably, this "bad" 
news was picked up by the media 
and amplified so that every dead 
flamingo now means poisoned 

In early 2006, at both Nakuru 
and Elmenteita, Lesser Flamingo 
numbers suddenly increased. 
Elmenteita's went from nearly 
nothing to 70,000. The increase 
in numbers of healthy birds was 
accompanied by deaths - in the case 

of each lake a tiny fraction, about 
2% of the numbers. The mortality 
lasted for about 2 weeks. A similar 
increase in numbers occurred in 
June, and most recently in Lake 
Oloidien (see below). 

Is it likely that a tiny fraction 
of the birds picked up poison in 
the lake and others did not? It is 
much more likely that those birds 
were weakened by their travels 
that brought them to the lake, had 
weakened immune systems, and 
were susceptible to the diseases 
which the birds carry but which a 
healthy bird can resist. Research by 
Dr Lindsay Oakes of Washington 
State University, working with the 
Leicester University and National 
Museums team, last year identified 
quite a number of bacterial and 
fungal diseases that individual 
birds were dying from - all of them 
displaying the same symptoms that 
have been claimed as evidence 
for heavy metal poisoning and 
cyanobacterial toxin poisoning. 
The explanation currently popular 
is that the mortalities in Nakuru and 
Oloidien are caused by Salmonella 

The story of exactly why 
flamingos die periodically is 
complex and almost certainly 
involves the combination of several 
factors. We must distinguish 
between those factors which cause 
the birds' immune systems to 
weaken - stressors - and those 
factors which kill weakened birds. 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

For the first time ever, in November 
2006, David Harper shall lead a 
research team at Lake Bogoria in 
partnership with Professor Kenneth 
Mavuti of the University of Nairobi, 
and the National Museums of 
Kenya, to which appropriate staff 
of Kenya Wildlife Service and 
Tanzanian equivalent bodies have 
been invited, which will have 
both a veterinarian (Lindsay 
Oakes) and a cyanobacterial toxin 
expert (Dr Tomacz Jurczak from 
Poland). We shall endeavour to 
conduct post-mortems on birds 
that have died and examine all 
three theories of flamingo mortality 
- microbial disease, cyanobacterial 
toxins and heavy metal poisoning. 
Perhaps after that, the scientific and 
conservation community will have 
a better idea of flamingo population 

To return to Naivasha, where we 
started this article. This is a fresh 
water lake which has produced many 
surprises, but hosting thousands of 
Lesser Flamingos is unlikely to 
remain one of them. Naivasha 
supports a few hundred Greater 
Flamingos at times, because they 
can find food there - Greaters are 
carnivores feeding on insects and 
crustaceans and Naivasha has an 
abundance of water boatmen that 
make good Greater Flamingo 
dinners. Lesser Flamingos stop by 
in smaller numbers, because they at 
least can drink there, but not feed. 

The event that led to news stories 
though, is an abundance of Lesser 
Flamingos that settled on Lake 
Oloidien in August 2006. Lake 
Oloidien, also known as the 'Little 
Lake' , is at the south west corner of 


.-^>-.. v .w. 


■[ ^^J^m^..^^^ :: 

Greater Flamingo 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Naivasha. It is a volcanic crater lake, 
which was once connected to the 
main lake but has not been directly 
joined since 1979. (Sadly, many 
maps are sold to tourists which 
still show this connection, because 
they are based on the last-published 
Survey of Kenya 1:50,000, which 
marks the lake's high water level.) 
David Harper and his team have 
been conducting research in the 
Lake Naivasha basin since 1982 
and have recorded Oloidien steadily 
becoming more saline-alkaline as 
it loses more water by evaporation 
than it receives in seepage. 

This slow increase in salinity 
meant that it became greener and 
greener, for perfectly natural reasons. 
Lakes with high pH (alkaline lakes) 
have their phosphorus chemically 
more available, so the algae and 
cyanobacteria which can tolerate 
the pH, thrive on the phosphorus. 
Until this year, these were all 
single celled species, too small 
for anything but tiny invertebrates 
to feed on. 

In July 2006, Oloidien water 
passed the magic salinity mark that 
made it suitable for a much larger 
species, Spirulina (actually called 
Arthrospira fusiformis nowadays). 
Hey presto! the few Lesser 
Flamingos that regularly dropped 
in by chance stayed, because they 
could feed. As the numbers grew, 
more dropped in to join them. 
Within a few weeks in August, 
twenty thousand Lesser Flamingos 
had swelled to 200,000. 

This is now not only an exciting 
spectacle for the lakeside residents, 
which include many well-known 
Nature Kenya members, but it's 
exciting to scientists too. Oloidien 
water, though far too saline for 
humans or cattle to drink, is NOT 
too saline for flamingos to drink. 
So all over the lake, you have the 
remarkable spectacle of groups of 
lesser flamingos feeding, next to 
groups which are drinking, next 
to groups which are bathing. In no 
other lake in the world can this be 
observed, we believe. 



November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Map of Lake Naivasha and the "little lake" Oloidien courtesy of the 
Department of Ornithology, National Museums of Kenya 

And the deaths? Once again 
about 2% of the resident population. 
That does not mean the lake is 
polluted, it does not mean the lake 
is toxic. It just means the marabou 
storks will not go hungry. 

To follow the story of flamingos 
on the Rift Valley lakes, visit the 

Dr David Harper has been leading 
research teams to the Rift Valley lakes 
with Prof Ken Mavuti, of the University 
of Nairobi, for 25 years. Their work 
has been funded by the Earthwatch 
Institute and supported by Earthwatch 

volunteers since 1987. Their scientific 
research and community involvement 
in soda lake sustainability is funded 
by the Darwin Initiative, 2003-08. 
The research has been carried out 
in collaboration with the Dept. of 
Ornithology, National Museums of 

L. Krienitz, A. Ballot, K. Kotut, C. 
Wiegand, S. Putz, J. S. Metcalf, G. A. 
Codd, S. Pflugmacher (2003). 
Contribution of hot spring cyanobacteria 
to the mysterious deaths of Lesser 
Flamingos at Lake Bogoria, Kenya 
FEMS Microbiology Ecology 43 (2); 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 



Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike nesting in 

George W. Eshiamwata <> 

A Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike is, 
in my opinion, a pretty, beautiful, 
lovely, attractive, handsome, neat, 
gorgeous and elegant bird! If 
most of these descriptions are 
synonymous, please pardon me, for 
I would like say that it merits such 

In Kenya there are two races 
of Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike, 
Rhodophoneus cruentus, with R.c. 
hilgerti found mainly north of the 
equator and R.c. cathemagmenus 
being the race south of the equator, 
including Olorgesailie Prehistoric 
Site off the Magadi Road. Both 
races exhibit sexual dimorphism, 
with the males in the southern 
race having a rose-red throat and 
breast patch bordered by black. 
The female has a white throat with 
a black border expanded to form 
a patch on upper breast. Despite 
these bright colours, and the rosy 
red rump conspicuous in flight, 
this species might go unnoticed, 
as the rest of its plumage is dull 
and blends well with the savannah 

including some building nests. Just 
like in the Biblical Noah's Ark, 
the bush-shrikes came in twos 
- monogamous and destined for 

Eight pairs were sighted between 
June and November 200 1 , randomly 
distributed within the Olorgesailie 
area that was my study site. Each 
pair appeared confined to one area 
almost throughout the duration 
of my observations. The species 
appears to be very territorial, with 
no overlap observed. 

Edwin Selempo 

The sighting of a pair of Rosy- 
patched Bush-Shrike in late June 
2001 at Olorgesailie Prehistoric 
Site, where I was doing field work 
on Banded Parisomas, was the first 
for some time. Then several pairs 
were sighted in subsequent months, 

Among the attributes of birds 
is their ability to take advantage 
of favourable conditions. The 
Olorgesailie area and its environs 
had registered some sporadic 
rainfall from June, with optimal 
amounts in November 2001. The 
changes that rainfall brought, 
triggering an abundance of food 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

resources, coincided with the 
sighting of three pairs of Rosy- 
patched Bush-Shrike nesting. Soon 
they were tending to hatchlings. 
Observations ended at that time, 
so I have no records of fledging or 
post-fledging success. 

The synchrony in the nesting 
makes me conclude that theirs was 
a breeding dispersal. However, it 
would be important to know where 
the birds migrated from, and the 

habitat condition where they came 
from, to ascertain whether their 
movement was due to food scarcity 
or deterioration of the habitat. 

For those bird watching in 
Olorgesailie in future: be on the 
lookout, especially between June 
to December, and if you see Rosy- 
patched Bush-Shrikes, especially 
breeding pairs, send your records 
to Nature Kenya or the Museum's 
Department of Ornithology. 

Chestnut Weavers breeding on the 
Nairobi-Magadi Road 

Chege Kariuki <> 

On the 1st of June 2005 a group 
of Nairobi birders drove down the 
Magadi Road, still very green with 
long grass in some flat areas. 

Chestnut Weavers were nesting 
in a big colony in acacia woodland 
along the road. This was some 
kilometres beyond the bridge, and 
before the two water holes. Two 
weeks earlier, during the Nature 
Kenya Sunday Birdwalk on the 
15th of May, we saw the males 
starting nest-building. Most of the 
nests were then at the ring stage. 

However, on the 1st of June, 17 
days later, we saw females bringing 
food (caterpillars) to the young 
ones in the nest. This time only 
females were doing the feeding. 

Then, some few hundred metres 
down the road, we found another, 

new colony coming up and the tree 
was full of males building nests, 
together with Speke's Weavers, 
while Chestnut Sparrows were busy 
wing quivering and trying to take 
over the nests from the Chestnut 

In Birds of Africa, volume VII, it 
says that the male Chestnut Weavers 
go away after nest building, meaning 
that the incubation, feeding of and 
caring for the young are fully done 
by females. This was evident during 
our two visits (males building the 
nests and females doing the rest). 

However, after discovering the 
next new colony a few hundred 
metres or less than a kilometre away, 
I thought that these could be the 
same males that are building some 
more nests for other females? 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Another record of Oriole-Finch from the 
Mau Forest area 

James Bradley <> 
drawing by Andrew Kamiti 

The Oriole-Finch is a small and 
shy forest finch that inhabits dense 
undergrowth and fruiting trees 
in Kenya's highland forest areas. 
Roughly the size of a Red-billed 
Quelea, the male is similar in 
appearance to a Black-headed 
Oriole but with a shorter and 
stubbier, orange bill. The female is 
a mix of dull olive tones above and 
paler olive-yellow on the belly. It 
is unique in representing the only 
species of its genus in the finch 
family (Fringillidae). 

Recent literature speculates on 
the status of Oriole-Finch in the 
forests that flank the rift valley. 
Previously thought to be absent 
from the Mau forests (Zimmerman 
et al. 1996) a recent sighting 
indicates that it does occur in the 
South-west Mau Forest but is 
uncommon there (Bennun 2003). 

While birding along the Kimugu 
River below the Kericho Tea Hotel 
(approximate altitude 2150m) on 
the morning of 25 th December 
2004, Phillip Bradley and myself 
were fortunate enough to observe 
a female Oriole-Finch and an hour 
later, a male at a location half 
a kilometre away from the first 
sighting. Both birds were observed 
foraging in the mid-level of large fig 

trees directly adjacent to the river. 
This site is approximately 10km 
from the more contiguous South- 
west Mau Forest. 

The forest in this river valley, like 
many in the area, though heavily 
disturbed in places with many of 
the larger canopy trees having 
been removed, still maintains 
many aspects of the montane 
forest that characterizes upland 
areas in Kenya. Birds such as 
Yellow- spotted Barbet, Equatorial 
Akalat, Banded Prinia and Sharpe's 
Starling, more typically associated 
with a more continuous forest 
cover, were also observed at this 
site and attest to the reasonable 
quality of these remnant river 
valley forests. These river valleys 
effectively represent fingers of 
montane forest radiating outwards 
from the core area of the South- 
west Mau Forest. Thus while this 
is undoubtedly an unusual sighting 
in terms of location, the habitat is 
obviously suitable. These birds 
presumably followed the corridor 
of forest along the Kimugu River 
downstream from the South-west 
Mau Forest. 

The scarcity of observations of 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Oriole-Finch from the South-west 
Mau and associated remnant forest 
patches suggests that it is indeed an 
uncommon species there although 
probably resident at low densities 
and merely overlooked. 


Bennun, L. (2002) Oriole-Finch in 

the Mau Forest and Aberdares. Kenya 

Birds, 10: 11 

Zimmerman, D.A., Turner, D.A. & 

Pearson, D.J. (1996) 

Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania, 

A & C Black, London 

Black-and-white Cuckoo (Jacobin Cuckoo) 
Breeding at Lake Baringo 

Jeffory Coburn <> 

Since going to Lake Baringo over 
the past ten years, I have noticed 
that the Black-and-white or Jacobin 
Cuckoo is often different from 
descriptions in the books. Two 
subspecies occur, pica and serratus. 
Both have migratory movements, 
but only pica is known to breed in 
Kenya. Like other cuckoos, they are 
brood parasites. 

The immature Black-and-white 
Cuckoo, subspecies pica, which 
I photographed, have no distinct 
crest. They are black with a hint of 
brown, with a buff breast right up to 
the bill. The bill's upper mandible is 
yellowish-horn, the lower mandible 
bright yellow, the eyes are black 
and the legs buff. The tail has a 
buff feather the full length of the 
tail on the outside, as well as the 
tip. The fledgling pica have grey 
under the chin and no wing patch, 
but are otherwise the same as the 

I also photographed a bird, in 
September 2005, which was dark 
grey all over with a black bill, black 

legs and no white tip of the tail. 
Also no distinct crest, indicating 
an immature. It had a buff patch at 
the base of the primaries. Could this 
have been an immature pica? 

Perhaps it is the time of year 
that I go to Lake Baringo, usually 
April and October, but until this 
year I had not seen an adult Black- 
and-white Cuckoo of subspecies 
pica there. Perhaps they leave after 
laying their eggs? I have found six 
nests of Rufous Chatterers with a 
cuckoo egg in it, and three Rufous 
Chatterers feeding pica out of the 
nest, and I have come across four 
groups of four immatures. 

In May 2006, however, when I 
was at Lake Baringo, I actually saw 
an adult pair of birds prospecting a 
Rufous Chatterer's nest. I also came 
across another Rufous Chatterer's 
nest with three cuckoos in it! 
The young in the nest were all 
at different stages, ranging from 
newly hatched to nearly fledged. 
As you can imagine the nest was 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


The Challenge of Fieldwork 

Simon Musila <> 

When I announced that I planned to 
study the rare and cryptic Chapin's 
Flycatcher in Kakamega Forest, 
people would ask, "Have you ever 
seen this bird?" or say "This is a 
very difficult species." Cracks of 
doubt began to form. 

Despite these odds, I started a 
reconnaissance study in Kakamega 
Forest in 2002. The first day, I 
walked reluctantly toward Isecheno 
Forest station with Titus Imboma. 
About 50m from the forest edge, I 
could not help but gape at what I 
saw. An immovable wall of towering 
vegetation stood majestically before 
me. A wave of trepidation paralysed 
me psychologically. But with 
nobody to appeal to, life had to go 

Once inside the forest, I was 
enveloped in partial darkness, 
and I was being rained on! When 
I focused my binoculars on a 
particular spot, both my lenses were 
flooded with water, as drops from 
the foliage rained on them. As I 
cleaned them, I sensed that there 
was movement everywhere, of 
uncountable leaves and branches. 
Where was I supposed to look for 
these birds? If I was to succeed in 
this project a strategy had to be 
devised. I started by concentrating 
on the bare branches and foliage 
where the authors of Birds of Kenya 

and Northern Tanzania had said 
they would be found, quiet and 
perched upright. But there was no 
sign of bird life. 

However, the forest so seemingly 
devoid of birds was also a cacophony 
of endless bird calls and songs. The 
call of the Chapin's Flycatcher, 
if luckily among them, is a short 
trill song, that can only be heard 
if every noise in the forest obeyed 
your order to"Keep quiet!" There 
is also an acute shortage of glaring 
plumage features in these birds, 
being dingy greyish below, darker 
on breast, with a short pale grey 
supraloral stripe; bill mostly black, 
corners of the mouth yellow, eyes 
brown, and feet dull blue grey. 
These are the types of features 
that can be difficult to detect, with 
different light reflections and a 
perching height of 10-20m above 
the ground. 

We did not see any Chapin's 
Flycatchers on the first two days. 
I was nearly exploding with stress, 
ready to drop the project. On the 
third day I found solace in prayer. It 
was not in vain. As Titus, Nicholas 
Shikuyenze and I walked slowly 
along a trail near Isecheno Forest 
station, we carefully searched 
for signs of birds, tracking every 
movement: shaking leaves disturbed 
by heavy drops of water, falling 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

leaves, a few early morning birds. 
Inside the canopy of a Maesopsis 
tree, on a bare branch, Nicholas 
noticed a bird that sat quietly, as an 
ambush guerrilla waiting to attack. 
The bird appeared to be facing 
its creator in meditation about its 
destiny after death. That looked like 
our object of desire. 

When we identified the bird 
as Chapin's Flycatcher, after 
consulting the guidebooks at 
length, posing a lot of questions to 
one another, glee filled every part 
of ourselves. 

The Chapin's Flycatcher is a 
scarce range-restricted bird that 
is known from Lendu Plateau 
in eastern Democratic Republic 
of Congo (DRC), Bwindi 
(Impenetrable) Forest in Uganda, 
as well as Kakamega rainforest 
and North Nandi forests in Western 
Kenya. In our survey we recorded 
Chapin's Flycatcher in the Isecheno 
section of the Forest Reserve; in 
Ikuywa Forest near Ikuywa River 
Bridge; at Rondo Retreat Centre; 
and at Quarry Road Junction; and 
in Buyangu, along the Isiukhu 
River and behind Buyangu Hill. 
With continuous fragmentation and 
destruction of Kakamega Forest, 
the bird's already low population 
size may be declining. 

The full research paper is now in 
the latest copy of the ABC (African 
Bird Club) Bulletin if you want to 
read more. 

Eagle at Kinangop 

In January 2006, residents of 
Njabini in South Kinangop found 
an eagle which had fallen into a 
dump pit. The residents were angry. 
Some suspected it to have bird flu, 
while others said it was feeding on 
their chickens. One of the residents 
informed me and I rushed there. 

It was hard for me to make 
the angry and armed crowd 
understand that the bird was not 
as they thought. But I thank my 
Zimmerman guide book, which 
made them pay attention to what 
I was saying. They then became 
friendly to that bird and to others. 

The first step we took was to 
feed the bird half a kilo of meat 
and a glass of water, with the now 
happy residents. We kept the bird 
in a cool place for it to rest, while I 
was trying to identify it, but it did 
not seem to recover. 

Then we contacted Mr Kimani 
Ndung'u, who gave me the contact 
of the Ornithology Department at 
the National Museums. I was told to 
wait for the bird to fly. However, it 
was in a critical condition. So finally 
we thank the Graham Dangerfield 
Wildlife Trust at Naivasha, who 
came to take the bird and care for 

We wish the eagle a quick 
recovery and a safe flight. 

Charles Mugo 
Friends of Kinangop Plateau 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 





The avian flu virus in the news is a 
kind of avian influenza called H5N 1 . 
There are many kinds of avian 
influenza, or bird flu, viruses. Most 
of these viruses are not dangerous to 
people or to birds. The H5N 1 variety 
is the one causing concern. 

NO outbreak of this dangerous 
H5N1 type of avian flu had been 
reported in Kenya as at the end 
October 2006. 

Avian flu type H5N1 is a disease of 
domestic poultry, that is, chickens 
and domestic ducks, geese and 

Most outbreaks of avian flu H5N1 
have been in South East Asia. 

In some cases in Asia and Europe 
it has been found in wild birds, 
who died of the disease. And in a 
very few cases, people have caught 
the disease from handling infected 

In 2006, avian flu reached a number 
of African countries: Nigeria, Niger, 
Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Burkina 
Faso in the west; and Djibouti, 
Egypt and Sudan in the east. All 
cases were in chickens or other 
poultry. In Egypt, there have been a 
few human cases. 

Only a few people have become ill Cockerel by Johnson Rwige 

with this avian flu; they all handled 
domestic poultry. 

Avian flu type H5N1 has spread 
to different countries in different 
ways. In Africa, it seems to have 
spread through imports of chickens 
or other poultry. 

The virus can also spread through 
the trade in poultry, pet birds, or the 
illegal wild bird trade. Scientists are 
studying whether the use of chicken 
manure as food in fish farms or pig 
farms can spread the virus. 

Wild birds also seem to play a 
role, although it is not clear. Many 
countries where wild birds migrate 
have not recorded any avian flu. 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 



We can continue to watch, listen to 
and enjoy birds. It is safe to view 
waterbirds. There is no confirmation 
that any person has caught the virus 
from a wild bird. 

We can continue to eat chicken, 
turkey, duck and eggs. Boiling, 
roasting or frying kills the virus. 
Do not eat sick or dying chickens 
or waterbirds. 

By observing birds, bird watchers can 
also help the authorities. Kenya and 
many other countries are carrying 
out surveillance programmes for 
wild birds. These include monitoring 
wetlands and other sites for sick or 
dead birds, and taking samples of 
secretions from live, apparently 
healthy birds. Sampling should only 
be carried out by those with proper 
training and protective clothing. 

Birdwatchers, however, can report 
unusual birds deaths. There are 
many causes for sudden deaths of 
birds: drought, pollution, viral and 
bacterial diseases. Recent die-offs 
of flamingos and doves in Kenya 
have tested negative for avian flu. 
Unusual deaths of birds are still 
worth reporting, however. A useful 
guideline is, report if you find more 
than five dead birds at one place. 

Give the location and estimate the 
number of dead birds. 

Avian influenza hotlines in Kenya 
(020) 2718292, or 0722- 331548. 

Do not pick up sick or dead ducks or 
other waterbirds. The virus is spread 
by close contact with infected birds 
or their faeces. Other, more common 
inflections are also spread in this 

Small land birds are not likely 
to catch avian flu, and even less 
likely to spread it. Observe normal, 
sensible hygiene precautions if you 
have a bird bath or bird feeder: wash 
hands after handling equipment that 
has been splashed with bird faeces; 
rinse out bird baths each day; clean 
bird feeders and bird baths outside, 
wash your hands when you finish. 

Keep domestic chickens, ducks, 
geese and turkeys separate from 
where people eat and sleep. 

Do not try to kill wild birds or 
destroy their natural habitats. A 
healthy population of wild birds 
helps to keep diseases away from 
domestic poultry and people. 

More information is available from 
the BirdLife International website: 
<> and the UN 
Convention on Migratory Species, 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 



Migration at Ngulia, 2004 

Graeme Backhurst David Pearson 

<> <davidpearson@freeuk. 

artwork by Nani Croze com> 

Ngulia Safari Lodge (Tsavo West) was discovered to be a unique site for Palaearctic 
bird migration in 1969. Large numbers of southward-bound night-migrating birds 
are attracted to the game-viewing lights under misty conditions in November, 
December and January. The Ngulia Ringing Group has operated there ever since. The 
birds are caught in fine-mesh nets, gently removed, measured and weighed, fitted 
with a light aluminium ring on one leg, and released to continue their migration. 

Ringing controls, 2004 & 

(Birds ringed at one site and caught 
and released at another site) 


24.1 1.03 Ngulia 

22.05.04, Jurmo, Finland 

26.11.03 Ngulia 

23.05.04, Kaliningrad, Russia 

Marsh Warbler 

27.07.02 Uebersyren, Luxembourg 
12.1 1.04, Ngulia 

18.07.03 Weissenberg, Germany 
11. 11.04, Ngulia 

15.06.04 Zemlchy, Czech Republic 
24. 11.04, Ngulia 

24.07.04 Bambrugge, Belgium 

12.11.04, Ngulia 

Olive-tree Warbler 
28.1 1.03 Ngulia 

13.01.05, Francistown, Botswana 

2004 Season 

Two major sessions were organized 
around the time of the new moon, 
from 7 to 24 November and 2 

to 17 December. A total of 41 
people from ten countries took part. 
November provided an unusual 
opportunity to see the early phase 
of the Ngulia passage, with useful 
catches of early-season species 
which we usually see only in small 
numbers. It produced more than 
11,000 birds in 'dry' mist, often 
patchy and coming in late at night. 
In December, mist with rain lived 
up to expectations, producing large 
catches, and the combined ringing 
total for the season, 25,455, was 
second only to the massive total 
of 1995. 

Migrants caught at night 
accounted for 28% of all birds 
ringed (cf. 38% in 2003 and 18% 
in 2002). The Nightingale was 
undoubtedly 'bird of the year' with 
a total of 304 ringed compared to 
the previous annual record of 138 
in 1998. There were four controls 
of foreign-ringed birds, all Marsh 
Warblers, all in November. 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

November session 

In November, little of the bush 
was in leaf. During the nights of 
1 1-13, with light mist, almost 5000 
birds were ringed. For the next two 
nights, low cloud was reluctant to 
descend as mist, but with tapes of 
bird song playing from 02:00 hrs to 
enhance attraction, over 1500 more 
migrants were caught. 

Then with better mist and tapes 
no longer required, a further 2400 
were caught on 16-17. Almost half 
the 9000+ birds ringed during this 
first week were Sprossers, while 
Whitethroats were roughly equal 
in numbers with Marsh Warblers. 
Two Eurasian Bee-eaters were the 
first for Ngulia. 

Early species 

Included in the November catch 
were relatively large numbers of 
Rufous Bush Chat (85), Olive-tree 
Warbler (103), Barred Warbler 
(101), Red-backed Shrike (281) 
and Spotted Flycatcher (256), 
and an unprecedented number of 
Nightingales (272), including 62 
on 13th and 64 on 17th. There 
were only 68 Iranias in this early 
catch, nine Basra Reed Warblers 

and just eight River Warblers; our 
assessment is that these are later 
migrants at Ngulia. Two unmoulted 
Great Reed Warblers were very 
unusual: this species normally 
occurs later at Ngulia and almost 
always in fresh plumage. 

'Dry' mist season 

Five clear nights gave only 156 
ringed. But on 23rd mist hovered 
at tree height late at night, with a 
few drops of rain. With tapes in 
use, 347 birds were caught at night 
followed by a further 908 in the day. 
The total included a remarkable 
908 [sic] Marsh Warblers, 18 more 
Olive-trees, 12 Rivers and two 
more Eurasian Bee-eaters in the 
late morning. The final morning 
followed a similar pattern: of 539 
birds ringed, 465 were Marsh. 

December start 

Thick mist came in at suppertime on 
2nd, followed by a heavy shower at 
22:30, and many birds arrived at the 
lights. A large moon rose at 23:00 
and the mist was light and patchy, 
so tapes were played to try to hold 
birds till morning. This seemed to 
work well and 599 migrants were 
caught in the single bush 'L' (1 10-m 
of net). Next day, an evening shower 
was followed by thick mist. Using 
more bush nets, and some night 
netting, an overall catch of 737 
was taken, with Marsh Warblers 
(409) again hugely dominant, and 
ten Olive-tree Warblers, unusual for 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Main onslaught 

More participants began to arrive, 
and the team soon numbered 
between 1 2 and 24. We experienced 
heavy showers on most nights, 
but mist tended to be patchy and 
late, so that tapes were often used 
to enhance catching. Moderate 
catches were made daily 5th to 
9th, with Sprossers ranking second 
to Marsh Warbler, River Warblers 
picking up steadily, a few Basra 
Reed Warblers each day and one 
Icterine Warbler. 

High numbers 

December 10th and 11th proved 
to be the busiest of 2004. With 
persistent mist from before 
midnight until dawn, and very 
active night and bush operations, 
over 5000 birds were ringed in 
these two days, including 2000+ 
Marsh Warblers, 1400+ Sprossers, 
260 River Warblers, 161 Iranias, 
143 Willow Warblers (many of the 
eastern race, yakutensis), 1 1 Basra 
Reed Warblers, two Great Reed, 

five more late Olive-tree Warb;ers, 
another Icterine and a few Black- 
and-white Cuckoos. 

More than 14,000 migrants were 
ringed during December. The high 
Nightingale numbers had fallen 
away, and Spotted Flycatchers, 
Rufous Bush Chats and shrikes 
were relatively few, as expected. 


Overall, the record Nightingale 
catch and the high numbers of 
Spotted Flycatchers, Olive-tree 
and Barred Warblers stand out. 
Willow Warblers were prominent 
throughout the season, with a day 
record of 122 on December 11th. 
It was also a good year for Red- 
backed Shrikes and Olivaceous 
Warblers and, amongst the scarcer 
species, Sedge and Eurasian Reed 

The 48 Basra Reed Warblers 
made up a smaller proportion of 
the total catch than in many earlier 
years and, once again, the Upcher's 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Warbler contribution of just 14 was 
meagre. Few wheatears were ringed 
and only ten Eurasian Nightjars. 
There were not many days with 
Barn Swallows feeding in numbers, 
and the total ringed (132) was the 
lowest since 1997. There were 
remarkably few Eurasian Rollers 
seen, either at night or coasting 
south after dawn, and only one was 


For reasons not entirely clear, 
the number of Afrotropical birds 
ringed, just 289, was the lowest 
since 1990. Though the bush was 
leafless in November, it had greened 
up by December; but this bush may 
be less thick than when nets were 
first used there ten years ago. 

Just 1 1 Harlequin Quails were 
ringed in all, far fewer than used 
to be caught — often inside the 
Lodge — in the early days. But four 
Common Button-quails was a good 
number for a species not caught 
every year; a Lesser Moorhen 
picked up in the building at night 
was only the fifth for Ngulia. 

Afrotropical nightjar numbers 
vary enormously from year to 
year, but this year, with only seven 
ringed (all Plain), was one of the 
poorest. Orange-bellied Parrot, 
Wire-tailed Swallow and Riippell's 
Long-tailed Starling were all new 
to the ringing list; the starling is 
a very recent arrival at the site, 
first seen in October 2003. Other 

birds of interest ringed included a 
Barn Owl (second at the Lodge), 
two Pale Prinias (the third and 
fourth), Grey-headed, Pygmy and 
Malachite Kingfishers, several 
African Paradise Flycatchers, 

a Red-capped Robin-Chat and 
two Pringle's Puffbacks. The first 
African Reed Warbler since 1982 
was netted on 10 December. 


We thank the Kenya Wildlife 
Service for allowing us to ring 
birds at Ngulia. The acting Lodge 
manager, Victor Mwambui, and 
his staff deserve our gratitude for 
their friendly help. The Wetland 
Trust, the Nairobi Ringing Group, 
Nature Kenya and three individual 
members of the Ngulia RG provided 
very much appreciated financial 
support. The Swedish Ringing 
Centre allowed us, for the fifteenth 
year, to use their rings and provided 
their normal efficient support with 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 



Why do robin-chats mimic cuckoo songs 
even before cuckoos have started singing 
in the rainy season? 

A query on Kenyabirdsnet brought this intriguing answer from 
Dr Terry Oatley <> 

Cuckoo calls are popular subjects 
of robin-chat mimicry, partly 
because they hear them a lot. And 
also because they fall into the 
robin-chat's own frequency range 
and are easy to repeat. For robin- 
chats, mimicry plays an important 
role in courtship and territory 
advertisement; and this singing, 
including mimicry, starts early in 
the breeding season, often before 
visiting cuckoos have arrived. 

A species such as the Red- 
capped Robin-Chat can boast a 
repertoire of calls of nearly 40 other 
species of birds, and Riippell's 
Robin-Chat can probably match or 
better this total. (To my knowledge 
nobody has yet counted a repertoire 
of this species - one needs to 

listen to the same individual over 
a period of several weeks to get a 
comprehensive count of the number 
of calls it can mimic.) 

The record robin-chat repertoire 
included 73 calls and song portions 
of 36 different species of birds of 
18 families. And they don't forget 
them, so it is no problem for them to 
start repeating Red-chested Cuckoo 
calls early each breeding season 
before the cuckoos themselves start 

This ability of robin-chats to 
mimic cuckoo calls of course calls 
for caution when monitoring and 
ticking off cuckoos (and other 
species) on the basis of calls only. 
Listen long enough and one can 
usually distinguish a genuine 
cuckoo call from a genuine robin- 
chat copy, if only because sooner or 
later the robin-chat will introduce 
what Myles North, the great field 
ornithologist of mid-last century, 
aptly described as a "tiddly-pom' 
variation, or switch to copying 
African Crowned Eagle or a flock 
of Eurasian Bee-eaters. 

African ornithology is, as ever, 
full of challenges. 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Reports from Nature 
Kenya and its partners 

World Bird Watch, Nature Day, outings, talks, films, publications 
and other fun and educational activities are the public face of 
Nature Kenya. Back in the office, work continues on the study and 
conservation of nature at the local, national and global level. The 
series of reports that follow give a peek "behind the scene" at Nature 
Kenya and associated organizations. 

Nature Kenya at the Coast 

Nature Kenya has a number 
of programmes at the famed 
Arabuko-Sokoke forest in Kilifi 
and Malindi Districts. The focus 
is on community development to 
support conservation of the forest 
and its biodiversity. Key outputs 

• Participatory Forest 

• Monitoring the forest and its 

• Promotion of eco-tourism 

• Water pipes for communities (11.5 

• Agriculture for forest conservation 
- alternative crops and simple 

• Nature-based enterprises - 
butterflies, honey, silk moths, aloes, 
trees for income, poles and wood 
fuel and others 

To sustain these initiatives, and 
to expand coverage to other nearby 
Important Bird Areas (Mida Creek 
& Malindi- Watamu Shore, Sabaki 

River Mouth and 
Dakatcha Woodland), 
Nature Kenya now has 
a physical presence on 
the ground. 

Please visit the Nature 
Kenya coastal office at 
Gedi Ruins National 
Monument at Gede 
near Watamu ! 

Paul Matiku 

Site Support Groups 
Open Resource Centres 

As conservation takes root in 
many areas, communities are 
starting to take charge of their 
own conservation destiny. Near 
several Important Bird Areas 
(IBAs), Nature Kenya has been 
working with site support groups 
- community-based organisations 
committed to conservation. 
Together, they advocate for the 
protection of essential habitats, 
and initiate alternative livelihood 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


options which offset pressure on 
natural resources. 

In a collaborative effort with 
communities and donors, Nature 
Kenya has helped to put up three 
Resource Centres. On the Kinangop 
Plateau grasslands and in Kereita 
forests, through The Friends of 
Kinangop Plateau and Kijabe 
Environmental Volunteers, two 
Resource Centres have come of 
age. Support for these centres came 
from the Community Development 
Trust Fund and Biodiversity 
Conservation Programme of the 
European Community. 

On Mt Kenya, near Naro Moru, 
through the COMPACT-UNDP 
initiative and the Mt Kenya 
Biodiversity Conservation Group, 
a magnificent Eco-resource Centre 
is soon opening its doors to the 
community and other visitors. 

These centres will be models for 
conservation at the local level. They 
will exhibit and explain valuable 
traditional knowledge - use of 
medicinal plants and indigenous 
practices promoting conservation. 
The information will be displayed 
through photographs, pictures, 
models and murals in a way that is 
relevant to communities and visitors 
alike. Contact Nature Kenya for 
more information on opening hours 
and how to get there. 

Jacob Machekele 
Drawings by Andrew Kamiti 

Nature Kenya Committees 
and Projects 

Nature Kenya has several affiliated 
committees and projects that work 
to promote and conserve different 
taxa, species and habitats. These 
include the Bird Committee, Dudu 
Legislation and 
Policy Working 

Group, Mammal Committee, 
Plant Committee, Samaki Working 
Group, Succulenta East Africa and 
Youth Committee. Projects include 
Friends of City Park, Friends of 
Nairobi Arboretum and Nairobi 
Seasonal Wetlands Biodiversity 

The Committee and Projects 
comprise of people who have 
common interests and a strong 
passion for conservation. The 
groups' activities include talks 
and lectures, weekly and monthly 
birdwalks, plant walks, insect 
walks, succulent identification, field 
excursions, education programmes, 
research, fish sampling and 
identification, advocacy and 

Agatha Nthenge 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Site Action Plans for 

Important Bird Areas 

By Joel K Siele 
artwork by Nani Croze 


Important Bird Areas (IB As) are 
one focus for conservation action. 
The sites are home to birds that are 
endangered on a global scale; birds 
restricted to a very small range, or 
to a particular biome or ecosystem; 
or very large congregations of 
birds. By conserving birds, these 
areas also conserve other forms of 

Sixty Important Bird Areas have 
been identified in Kenya so far. 
IB As include many protected areas 
such as national parks and forest 
reserves. More than one third of 
Kenya's IBAs, however, have no 
formal protection status. 

Site Action Plans 

Two draft Site Action Plans 
(SAP) have been developed, one 
for Dunga Swamp and one for 
Mukurwe-ini River Valleys, both 
unprotected sites. Nature Kenya, in 
collaboration with the Ornithology 
Department of the National 
Museums of Kenya, organised 
Site Action Plan workshops in 
August 2005 to come up with 
strategies to conserve the birds and 
their habitats. The workshops were 
organised under the Important Bird 
Areas monitoring programme and 
involved various stakeholders from 
the sites. This process was funded 
by the Darwin Initiative, through 
the Royal Society for the Protection 
of Birds (RSPB). 

A Site Action Plan is a document 
used to guide the implementation 
of conservation activities at a 
particular site. It contains task 
assignments, milestones, timelines, 
resource allocations, data collection 
methodology, and evaluation 
criteria to be performed during the 
implementation process. 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Site Action Plans are also 
potential tools for fundraising to 
conserve important sites. 

Dunga Swamp 

The site covers 500ha of papyrus 
swamp on the shore of Lake Victoria. 
A number of streams drain into the 
lake though the swamp, principally 
the Tako River. Adjacent to the 
swamp is Kisumu city, the third 
largest city in Kenya inhabited by 
nearly one million people. City 
developments and increasing, dense 
human population is exerting a lot 
of pressure on the wetland biota. 

The wetland is an Important Bird 
Area (IBA) as it hosts a range of 
papyrus-endemic bird species, that 
is, birds found only in the papyrus 
swamp habitat. Among them 
are two globally threatened bird 
species, Papyrus Yellow Warbler 
and Papyrus Gonolek. The site is 
also an important fish breeding site 
and is home to the rare Sitatunga 
antelope Tragelaphus spekei. 

The papyrus swamp that these 
birds rely on for survival has been 
shrinking at an alarming rate due 
to encroachment for agriculture, 
settlement and industries. The 
burning and unsustainable 
utilisation of papyrus plants was 
also identified as contributing to 
this loss. 

To address these main threats, 
Nature Kenya decided to develop 
a SAP for this site. This was done 

with constant consultations with 
stakeholders around the IBA, 
whose activities have both negative 
and positive impact on the wetland. 
The possible interventions that are 
highlighted in the SAP to curb the 
above threats are: 

• Promotion of Eco-tourism, such 
as bird watching, sport-fishing, etc. 
for potential visitors 

• Development of a Dunga forum 
to include all stakeholders 

• Development of a sustainable 
papyrus industry with emphasis on 
quality rather than quantity crafts 

• Environmental education 

• Development of alternative forms 
of employment 

• Utilisation of water hyacinth as an 
alternative to papyrus 

• Clarifying and resolving land 
ownership issues and enforcing 
land protection laws 

• Assessment of Dunga's role in 
dealing with local water pollution 
and siltation. If the swamp plays 
a significant role, it should be 
gazetted/protected/recognised as 
being an important element in 
Kisumu City Council's suite of 
environmental waste management 
and treatment works. 

Mukurwei-ini River Valleys 

The Mukurwe-ini Valleys IBA is 
located in Central Province, Nyeri 
District (0° 42'S, 36° 34' E), and 
covers an area of at least 20,000 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

ha. The area 

includes the 


of the Thiha 

and Sagana 

Rivers on 

either side of 



road near 


town. It lies 33 Qp (£) 

at an altitude <*eA rr-\ 

of 1,500- 


This IBA is a stronghold of the 
Hinde's Babbler Turdoides hindei, 
one of Kenya's six endemic bird 
species and a globally threatened 
species. The Mukurwe-ini Valleys 
are a collection of people's farms, 
which are intensively cultivated. 
The Hinde's Babbler survives in the 
remaining patches of bush thicket, 
mainly along river valleys. As the 
human population increases and 
demand for land rises, even these 
thickets are now being cleared for 
farming. If the trend continues, 
we risk losing a significant part of 
the babbler population in the near 

This Site Action Plan (SAP) 
identifies strategies to ensure the 
long-term survival of the Hinde's 
Babbler. It aims to do this by 
increasing the size and quality 
of the Hinde's Babbler habitat 
in Mukurwe-ini in addition to 
protecting the remaining habitat 

patches. An indicator of 
success will be an increase in 
the population of the Hinde's 

Proposed conservation actions 
for Mukurwe-ini Valleys are: 

• Creation of a reserve or a 
network of reserves through land 

• Encouraging farmers to maintain 
bush thickets in their farms 
through land agreements 

• Scientific research and 
monitoring of the species and 
its habitat 

• Education and awareness creation 
and community involvement 

By increasing the size and 
quality of the habitat, it is hoped 
that the population of the birds 
will start to increase. Through 
regular monitoring of the species 
and its habitat, we shall be able 
to gauge the effectiveness of the 
measures outlined above. 

The two SAPs will be 
implemented over a period 
of five years. For effective 
implementation of these SAPs, 
different stakeholders were 
assigned some roles to play. The 
role of Nature Kenya, which took 
a lead in the SAP development, is 
to bring together all stakeholders 
operating at the two sites for the 

For further details concerning 
the Site Action Plans, contact 
Nature Kenya. 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Projects Funded by 

Critical Ecosystems 

Partnership Fund 

Conservation International has 
identified biodiversity hotspots 
- areas rich in unique species 
not found elsewhere, and usually 
endangered - across the world. 
Focusing on such hotspots enables 
conservation efforts to have a 
significant impact from available 

A. Instituting 



1 <b 

monitoring , 

and conservation 

5w * 

action in the 

M V £ 

Eastern Arc 

W c 

Mountains and 

ft A J W 

W o 

Coastal Forests 

This project aims at monitoring 
biodiversity in Key Biodiversity 
Areas within the East African 
Coastal Forests and Eastern Arc 
Mountains, a region cutting across 
Kenya and Tanzania. Started in 
2005, one of the key outputs is the 
Outcomes Biodiversity Database, 
managed by Nature Kenya assisted 
by Wildlife Conservation Society 
of Tanzania. The project is being 
co-implemented by BirdLife 
International and its Kenyan and 
Tanzanian partners. 

By keeping track of biodiversity 
of global concern (especially 
globally threatened flora and fauna) 

and conservation activities in the 
associated sites, it is envisaged 
that the initiative will significantly 
contribute to guiding conservation 
investments, among other things, at 
regional and global level. The project 
has managed to bring together key 
stakeholders, forming a network 
of individuals and institutions who 
share and exchange information on 
conservation of this biodiversity- 
rich region. 

B. Community Small Grants 
This initiative enables the active 
involvement of the local people in 
conserving biodiversity, recognizing 
the important role they play in 
achieving conservation targets. 
Community Based Organisations 
(CBOs) within the Eastern Arc 
Mountains and Coastal Forests 
biodiversity hotspot are assisted 
to write proposals that can be 
executed within their capacities and 
meant to achieve conservation and 
poverty reduction objectives. 

Nature Kenya, together with 
other partner institutions in 
conservation, namely the World 
Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and 
the Coastal Forests Conservation 
Unit of National Museums of 
Kenya, coordinate and manage 
the whole process.The initiative is 
currently disbursing funds to CBOs 
in all seven Kenyan districts where 
Key Biodiversity Areas are found 
within the coastal region. 

Alex Ngari 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

The Tropical Biology 

laying the foundation 
for effective resource 
management in Africa 


In Africa, limited capacity - in 
human capabilities, funding, etc 
- is a key challenge to effective 
conservation. Such seemingly 
insurmountable challenges can 
be tackled through institutional 
partnership. The Tropical Biology 
Association - Nature Kenya 
partnership is a case in point. 

The TBA first came to Africa 
in 1994 and forged a partnership 
with the East Africa Natural History 
Society - the EANHS. Its mandate 
was to train biologists in the tropics 
in field ecology, conservation and 
research, and to catalyse links 
between biologists in the North 
and in the South. This approach 
was unique and partly provides 
the reason why the TBA has been 
so successful. The field aspect 
is important, allowing trainees 
to directly interact with nature 
as opposed to conventional class 
teaching. And they provide a rare 
opportunity to share experience 
and make contacts with individuals 
of different backgrounds. Any one 
TBA course is a blend of trainees 
from at least 15 nationalities. 

With success, demand grew: 
in 2006, there were a record 405 
applicants from 22 African countries 
for 46 places available each year. 
Competition is extremely high; the 
minimum requirement to attend a 
TBA course is a Bachelors degree 
plus basic biological research or 
work experience, or first year MSc 

In response, by 1998 the TBA 
started running courses at Amani 
Nature Reserve, Tanzania, in 
addition to Kibale (Uganda) and 
Naivasha (Kenya). A year later, 
the courses ran in Taita, Kenya 
and in 2001, a new site - Kirindy 
forest, Madagascar - was found, 
increasing TBA annual courses to 
4. Today, the TBA trains at least 
92 biologists (half being Africans, 
and half Europeans, Americans and 
Asians) every year. 

Of the 980 biologists trained 
so far, 480 biologists come from 
Africa. This represents invaluable 
input to institutional capacity. 

New training initiatives 

In 2004, the TBA set up a new 
programme of specialist skills 
training workshops, tailor-made 
to suit the needs of target groups. 
Initially, the focus is in delivering 
skills in writing for publication, 
fundraising, and communicating 
scientific results. Already three 
workshops have run in Nairobi 
(2004), Morogoro (2005) and 
Kampala (2006) in partnership 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


with National Museums of Kenya, 
Sokoine University of Agriculture 
and Makerere University. 

The workshops are particularly 
good for staff who can only afford 
a short period away from their 
work. They are also suitable 
for scientists, researchers and 
conservation managers who hold 
positions of influence and who 
have the potential to apply and 
share their skills with others at 
their institutions afterwards. So far 
61 individuals have attended the 
specialist skills workshops 

The TB A is collaborating with the 
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology 
(UK) on a 4-year research and 
training project on "combating 
invasive alien plants threatening 
the East Usambara Mountains, 
Tanzania". Funded by the Darwin 
Initiative, it involves Amani 
Nature Reserve and the Forestry 
and Beekeeping Division as its 
Tanzanian partners. In addition to 
quantifying the extent and impact of 
alien plant invasion at Amani Nature 
Reserve, the project will assist 
Tanzania to apply key principles 
for prevention, introduction and 
mitigation of impacts of invasive 
alien plants, contributing to the 
country's implementation of the 
Convention on Biological Diversity. 
The project awarded scholarships to 
two Tanzanians to study for Masters 
of Science degrees at Sokoine 
University in 2005, and ran an 

introductory workshop on "survey 
and monitoring of invasive plants in 
tropical forest ecosystems" for 12 
Tanzanian foresters and researchers 
in 2006. 

The latest initiative at TBA is 
the launch of a funding database 
to assist African conservation 
biologists find scholarships, 
fund their research projects or 
finance training opportunities. 
The database is a web-based 
directory of over 185 sources 
of MSc or PhD scholarships, 
fellowships, internships, project 
funding, training opportunities, 
travel grants and volunteerships. 
To sign up, please visit the TBA 
website: www.tropical-biology. 

What lies ahead? 

The TBA expertise remains in 
biological training. With a growing 
portfolio of programmes, it aspires 
to continue providing key practical 
training for conservation biologists 
and practitioners with the potential 
to have a significant impact on 
biodiversity management and 
research. Its success bears witness 
to a very fruitful partnership with 
Nature Kenya (the EANHS) 
and many other key institutional 
partners across Africa. TBA is 
open to new partnerships, although 
strengthening current partnerships 
is a top priority. A key challenge is 
to maintain the existing trademark 
of high levels of success. 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Waterbird Monitoring 

Programme in Kenya 

Summary of July 2004- 

July 2006 Census Results 

Simon Musila, Wanyoike Wamiti, 
Mwangi Wambugu & Muchai Muchane 
Department of Ornithology, 
National Museums of Kenya 

The Waterbird census, an 
international monitoring strategy 
for wetlands biodiversity, was 
launched in Kenya in 1990. It is 
part of the International Waterfowl 
Census (IWC) and regional African 
Waterfowl Census (AfWC) in 
Africa, both co-ordinated by 
Wetlands International (WI). 
The AfWC in Kenya has been a 
collaborative effort among the 
Department of Ornithology of 
the National Museums of Kenya 
(NMK), Kenya Wildlife Service 
(KWS), Wetland Biodiversity 
Monitoring Scheme (WBMS) 
and Nature Kenya. Waterbirds are 
counted in January and July each 
year in Ramsar sites and other 
wetlands in Kenya. This report is a 
summary of waterbird census done 
between July 2004 to July 2006. 

In July 2004 five sites (L. 
Turkana (partially counted), L. 

Nakuru National Park, L. Bogoria, 
Nakuru Town Sewage and Njoro 
Sewage ponds) were counted by 
74 volunteers. A total of 233,117 
waterbirds of 65 species were 
recorded. The dominant species 
were Lesser Flamingo (160,830), 
Great White Pelican (51,537) and 
Pink-backed Pelican (4,751). Two 
interesting species: African Darter 
(4) and African Skimmer (1) were 
recorded in L. Turkana. 

In July 2005, 40 volunteers were 
involved in the counts covering 
three sites (L. Nakuru N.P., Nakuru 
Town Sewage and Njoro Sewage 
ponds), and counted 635,194 
waterbirds of 54 species. Lesser 
Flamingo (619,296) were more 
abundant in 2005 than in July 2004, 
while Great White Pelican (5361) 
were fewer. 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


A hundred volunteers counted 
water birds in six sites (L. Nakuru 
National Park, L. Bogoria, L. 
Baringo (partially counted), L. 
Naivasha, Nakuru Town Sewage 
and Nakuru Njoro Sewage) in 
July 2006. L. Naivasha and L. 
Baringo were counted in July for 
the first time since the counts were 
initiated in 1 99 1 . A total of 56 1 ,632 
waterbirds of 71 species (in 19 bird 
families) were counted. 

The most abundant species 
were: Lesser Flamingo (540,428) 
followed by Red-knobbed Coot 
(6,134) and then Great White 
Pelican (2,205). There was a slight 
decline in the number of flamingos 
counted in July 2006 from the 
counts of July 2005. 

In July 2006 a number of dead 
flamingos were recorded in L. 
Bogoria (7) and L. Nakuru (1,245). 
Carcasses of the dead birds were 
examined by veterinary officers of 
the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) 
and tested negative for the Avian 
Influenza virus strain. 

Some interesting species during 
the July 2006 count were: Great 
Crested Grebe ( 1 + 1 ) recorded in 
both L. Nakuru and L. Naivasha. 
Western Reef Heron (1) was 
recorded in L. Nakuru, while 
Giant Kingfisher (6), Lesser Black- 
backed Gull (4), African Darter 
(1), Little Bittern (2) and Black- 
crowned Night Heron (5) were 
recorded in L. Naivasha. 

In January 2005, 38 sites were 
counted by 168 volunteers. A 
total of 462,437 waterbirds of 
1 1 9 species were recorded. Lesser 
Flamingo (279,624), Great White 
Pelican (53,907) and Greater 
Flamingo (45,506) were the most 
abundant species. Interesting 
species recorded in January 2005 
included: Four Great Crested Grebe 
on L. Naivasha, and Maccoa Duck 
recorded at 4 sites (L. Nakuru (2), 
L. Naivasha (1), L. Oloidien (16) 
and Manguo Floodplain). Fifteen 
African Skimmers and 1 8 skimmer 
nests were recorded at L. Turkana 
and one skimmer at Tana River 
Delta. White-backed Duck ( 1 ) was 
recorded at Nakuru Town Sewage 
and African Marsh Harrier recorded 
at L. Naivasha and Sabaki South 

During the severe drought of 
January 2006, 34 sites were covered 
and a total of 1,605,876 individual 
waterbirds of 118 species were 
counted by 144 volunteers from 
across Kenya. The most abundant 
species were the 1,469,026 
Flamingos: Lesser Flamingo 
(1,452,742) and Greater Flamingo 
(16,284). There was a significant 
increase in the number of waterbirds 
and flamingos counted in January 
2006 (See Table on facing page). 


The waterfowl counts of July 2004 to 
July 2006 were financially supported 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Summary of Waterbird Numbers Counted in Kenya's Wetlands July 04-06 

Summary Table 

1 Number of Volunteers 

2 Sites Covered 

3 Number of Species 

4 Total Waterbirds 

5 Number of Flamingos 

6 Greater Flamingo 

7 Lesser Flamingo 

July Counts 

January Counts 

2004 2005 


2005 2006 

74 40 


168 144 

5 3 


38 34 

65 54 


119 118 

233,117 635,194 561,632 462,437 1,605,876 

161,990 624,450 541,578 323,037 1,469,026 

1,160 5,154 1,150 43,413 16,284 

160,830 619,296 540,428 279,624 1,452,742 

by the Wetlands Program of KWS, 
Bird Committee of Nature Kenya (NK), 
Darwin Initiative - Important Bird 
Areas monitoring project of Nature 
Kenya, World Wide Fund for Nature 
(WWF) Lake Bogoria Project and East 
African Wildlife Society (EAWLS) 
through the Kenya Wetland Forum. The 
count organisers are very grateful to the 
many volunteers: Members of A Rocha 
Kenya, Nature Kenya and Site Support 
Groups (Lake Victoria Sunset Birders, 
Friends of Kinangop Plateau, Arabuko- 
Sokoke Forest Guides Association, 
Friends of Lake Bogoria and Friends 
of Lake Nakuru) who contributed 
immensely to make the July 2004 to 
July 2006 waterbird counts such a 
big success. Magadi Soda Company, 
Thika Water and Sewerage Company, 
Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company, 
Kenyatta University, Kahawa Sukari 
Ranch, Hillcrest School and Delamere 
Estates gave permission to access their 
properties while Lake Naivasha Country 
Club, Colin Burch, Elsamere Field 
Study Centre, Fisheries Department, 
Fisherman's Camp, Loldia House and 
KWS provided boats and coxswains. 
We also cannot forget the enormous 
efforts in coordinating, logistical and 

actual counts assistance received from 
WWF Lake Bogoria Project, Lake 
Naivasha Riparian Association, Nature 
Kenya birdwatchers and KWS Wardens 
and Staff at Lake Nakuru National 
Park, Lake Bogoria Nature Reserve, 
Hell's Gate National Park and Nairobi 
National Park. 

Further reading: 

Wambugu, M., Musila, S., Muchane, 
M., Ndithia, H. and Wamiti, W. 
(2006) Monitoring of waterbirds in 
Kenya, July 2005 and January 2006. 
Research Reports of the Centre for 
Biodiversity, National Museums of 
Kenya: Ornithology, 67. 

Mwema, M, Owino, A., and 
Ndang'ang'a, K. (2005) Monitoring 
of waterbirds in Kenya, July 2004 and 
January 2005. Research Reports of 
the Centre for Biodiversity, National 
Museums of Kenya: Ornithology, 60. 

Nasirwa, O., Muchane, M., 
Ndang'ang'a, K., Owino, A. and 
Mwema, M. (2004) Monitoring of 
waterbirds in Kenya, July 2003 and 
January 2004. Research Reports of 
the Centre for Biodiversity, National 
Museums of Kenya: Ornithology, 55. 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Waterbird Monitoring Programme 

in Kenya: July 2003 and January 

2004 Summary Results 

Oliver Nasirwa, Muchai Muchane, Kariuki Ndang'ang'a, 

Alfred Owino & Martin Mwema 

Summarised from Research Reports of the Centre for Biodiversity, 

National Museums of Kenya: Ornithology, 55 (2004) and Summary Report 

In July 2003, 43 volunteers counted 
three sites: Lake Nakuru and the 
two neighbouring sewage works, 
Nakuru Town Sewage and Njoro 
Sewage Ponds. For the three sites 
combined, a total of 289,722 
waterbirds of 58 species were 
counted. The most abundant species 
was as usual Lesser Flamingo 
(277,359) followed by Greater 
Flamingo (4,938) and White 
Pelican (1,377). 

In January and February 2004, 
47 sites were covered, a total of 
478,786 individual waterbirds of 
117 species were counted, and 
1 60 volunteers from across Kenya 
were involved. The 47 sites were 
in the following regions: southern 
Rift Valley lakes, wetlands around 
Nairobi, sites around Lake Victoria 
and on the Kenya north coast (in 
the Malindi-Watamu area) and 
wetlands in Central Province. 

The Rift Valley region had the 
highest number of waterbirds, 
recording 430,075 individuals of 
92 waterbird species, followed by 
the Kenya north coast with 33,222 

individuals of 79 waterbird species 
and third was wetlands around 
Nairobi with 7,669 individuals of 
68 waterbird species. 

The World Conservation Union 
(IUCN) provided an aircraft that 
enabled the simultaneous ground 
and aerial count of flamingos at 
Lake Magadi, as well as other 
large waterbirds (i.e. pelicans, 
herons, egrets, storks and ibises) 
in the Ewaso-Nyiro South marshes 
between Lake Magadi and Lake 
Natron from the air. 

Flamingos accounted for about 
97.4% and 76.4% of the total number 
of waterbirds counted in July 2003 
and January 2004, respectively, 
in the Rift Valley lakes. At Lake 
Nakuru, the numbers of Lesser 
Flamingo showed a threefold 
decline from 739,177 in July 2002 
to 277,236 in July 2003. 

On the January counts, the 
numbers of Lesser Flamingo 
declined further, from 1,045,209 
in 2003 to 226,265 in 2004. The 
numbers of Greater Flamingo 
showed a slight increase, from 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

4,050 in July 2002 to 4,933 in July 
2003, and 1,779 in January 2003 to 
2,160 in January 2004. 

The total number of Lesser 
Flamingos counted in the Rift valley 
lakes combined - Nakuru, Bogoria, 
Elmenteita, Magadi, and Naivasha 
(including its small adjacent lakes: 
Oloidien and Sonachi) declined 
from 1,161,934 in January 2003 
to 265,588 in January 2004. The 
numbers of Greater Flamingo 
increased from 4,850 in January 
2003 to 14,018 in January 2004. 
In 2003, only one Lesser Flamingo 
was recorded outside the Rift Valley 
lakes - at Dandora Sewage Works. 
In January 2004, Lesser Flamingos 
were recorded at Lake Simbi in 
Nyanza (one bird) and the Sabaki 
River Mouth at the coast (262). 
Greater Flamingos were recorded 
at Semini's Dam on the Kinangop 
Plateau (three birds), and at the 
coast at Lake Chem Chem (79), 
Lake Jilore (90), Sabaki River 
Mouth (129) and Kensalt (1,046). 

Only five African Darters were 
recorded in the entire January 2004 
census - four at Lake Naivasha and 
one at Lake Oloidien. 

The waterbird census programme 
in Kenya is a collaborative effort 
between the Department of Ornithology 
(National Museums of Kenya), Kenya 
Wildlife Service and Nature Kenya. 
The census is part of the International 
Waterbird Census (IWC). 

The organisers are very grateful 

to all those who made the census a 
success. Some funding for the January 
2004 census was provided by the UK's 
Darwin Initiative for the Survival 
of Species programme through the 
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, UK, 
as part of the project "Monitoring 
Biodiversity for Site Management 
Planning in eastern African Wetlands". 
Logistical support was provided by 
the Kenya Wildlife Service, World 
Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Lake 
Bogoria N.R. , Lake Nakuru N.P. and 
Nairobi N.P. The World Conservation 
Union (IUCN) provided an aircraft 
that enabled aerial counts to be carried 
out at Lake Magadi and the Ewaso- 
Nyiro South Marsh. A Rocha Kenya 
organised the counts at the Coast, and 
Turtle Bay Hotel assisted with transport 
for volunteers. The Wildlife Clubs of 
Kenya organised the counts around 
Lake Victoria, which received further 
support from Kenya Wildlife Service, 
City Council of Kisumu, Lake Victoria 
Sunset Birders, Kambo Fishing Group 
at Yala swamp and Dunga Community 
at Kisumu. Friends of Kinangop 
assisted in organising the counts 
at Kinangop. The Lake Naivasha 
Riparian Association supported the 
counts in various ways. In particular, 
Lake Naivasha Country Club, Colin 
Burch, Elsamere Field Study Centre, 
Fisherman's Camp and Loldia House 
assisted with boats. Brookside Dairy 
Limited, Kenyatta University, Nairobi 
City Council, Magadi Soda Company, 
Delamere Estates, Oserian Company, 
Kinja Nurseries, Dr. and Mrs Geoffrey 
Irvine, Mundui Estate, La Pieve- 
Kongoni Farm, Nderit Farm and Tony 
Church kindly permitted counters 
to cross their land to access wetland 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


Urgent Actions required to save 

the globally threatened 

Aberdare Cisticola in the Mau 

Narok/Molo Grasslands IBA 

Philista Malaki, Mercy Mwanika, Nicodemus Nalianya, Chege 

Kariuki, Timothy Mwinami 

Department of Ornithology, National Museums of Kenya 

<> and <> 

The Aberdare Cisticola is 
listed as globally 
endangered in the IUCN red 
data list. This small bird inhabits 
moist highland grassland above 
c. 3, 000m on both sides of the Rift 
Valley, at Molo, Mau Narok and 
the Aberdare mountains, in central 
Kenya. The species is threatened by 
rapid habitat loss and fragmentation 
due to expanding agriculture that 
continuously and substantially 
reduces its range. 

In July 2006, we set out to survey 
the status of the Aberdare Cisticola 
in the Mau Narok/Molo grasslands. 
Results of the survey showed 
that good numbers of Aberdare 
Cisticolas exist in the remnant 
grasslands of the IBA. Three nests 
were also recorded in the Molo 
grasslands - 2 around Kenyatta 
Dam and 1 at Keresoi Dam. (The 
first nest record was noted in 
2000 by George Eshiamwata and 
Silvester Karimi in the Aberdare 
central moorlands. See Kenya Birds 
volume 10 1&2.) 


One of the Molo grassland nests 
had two juveniles that had just 
hatched when we arrived at the 
site. However we were not able 
to monitor the nest to fledging 
since we had a short time at the 
study site. It seemed this was their 
breeding season, as the birds were 
encountered in pairs on several 
occasions. Some pairs were found 
with juveniles which we mist- 
netted and ringed successfully. The 
birds also made displays and called 
continuously and the air over the 
grasslands was filled with Aberdare 
Cisticola calls that we managed to 
record for future surveys. 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

The IBA is important for many 
species, as established by the 
abundance and diversity of grassland 
bird species recorded during this 
survey. This was exhibited by the 
common occurrence of the near- 
threatened Jackson's Widowbird, 
Sharpe's Longclaw and other 
grassland specialties, e.g. Wing- 
snapping Cisticola, Hunter's 
Cisticola, Levailliant's Cisticola, 
Red-capped Lark and Grassland 
Pipit. Among wetland species, the 
regionally threatened Great Crested 
Grebe (with its juveniles) and 
Maccoa Duck, among others, were 
also recorded at Kenyatta Dam in 

There is therefore greater 
need than ever for advocating 
the conservation of this IBA. 
The Aberdare Cisticola occurred 
in grassland patches that were 
surrounded by cultivated land, and 
were isolated from other grasslands. 
This suggests concentration of 
the species in the few grassland 
remnants into which they are 
being pushed by the unfavourable 
land uses that now occupy large 
proportions of the IBA. 

Clear differences in grassland 
cover and continuity between the 
parts of the IBA that fall within 
Mau Narok and Molo were apparent 
from this survey. These differences 
can be attributed to variation in 
human population density and 
land use practices between the two 

areas. From our observations, Molo 
was densely populated and mainly 
inhabited by the agriculturally- 
based Kikuyu and Kalenjin people 
whose livelihoods revolve around 
agriculture. Grasslands are, 
therefore, discontinuous and cover 
a lesser proportion of the land in 
these areas. 

Mau Narok is less densely 
populated, and is occupied by the 
Maasai community, who practise 
pastoralism, and have a tendency 
of leaving extensive pasture for 
their livestock. This practice is, 
however, being broken by the influx 
of large-scale crop cultivation. 
Barley and wheat production is 
currently on the rise and poses a 
major threat, especially to the large 
grassland areas on the southern 
side of Mau Narok. Barley and 
wheat plantations are replacing 
large grass areas that used to be 
spared by the Maasai community 
for their livestock. The remaining 
grasslands are now heavily grazed 
since the pastoral community still 
keeps large herds of cattle. 

Observations from this survey 
suggest that flat areas are often 
prioritised by farmers for cultivation. 
Grasslands have only been spared 
on areas that are sloping and 
shallow-soiled, especially along 
river/stream valleys and dam areas. 
Such areas are usually large since 
they may traverse through many 

Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 November 2006 


There was evidence of grass 
burning. This is practised by 
farmers in order to improve grass 
quality for their livestock. Burning 
may be detrimental to the Aberdare 
Cisticola and other grassland 
specialists who depend on the grass 
tussocks for nesting. There is need 
to advise farmers on appropriate 
land use and management practices 
that would favour the existence of 
the grassland specialists in this 
IBA. A number of farms were 
fenced, signifying division of the 
land into smaller parcels; this could 
result into fragmentation, reducing 
grassland patch size. Small, isolated 
grassland patches cannot support 
Aberdare Cisticolas. 

Molo had a higher proportion 
of grassland units than Mau 
Narok. Grasslands in Mau Narok, 
however, occur as large continuous 
patches, often broken by extensive 
monocultural crop plantations. The 
density of Aberdare Cisticola in 
Mau Narok was higher as a result 
of this difference in patch size. The 
issue of patch size should therefore 
be addressed. 

The existence of large farm units 
in the Mau Narok/ Molo IBA has 
led to increased practice of large- 
scale farming. This has beneficial 
as well as detrimental effects on 
the conservation of grassland 
birds: when farmers opt to keep 
livestock, they retain extensive 
pastureland on their farms that 

serves the requirements of the 
birds. On the other hand, if farmers 
opt to produce crops instead, large 
continuous grassland areas are lost 
to cultivation, leading to loss and 
isolation of grasslands. 

Mau Narok/ Molo IBA has now 
been identified by this survey as 
still containing some extensive 
areas of pristine grasslands. It 
is essential that immediate and 
realistic actions be taken that stem 
further loss of the grasslands, 
especially at crucial parts of the 
IBA. Specific farms have also been 
identified by this survey, e.g. Purko 
farm in Mau Narok, an association 
of land owners who have decided 
to put their farms together under a 
common management. This was 
considered the stronghold of the 
Aberdare Cisticola in this area 
during this survey. In Molo the 
grasslands surrounding Kenyatta 
Dam and Keresoi Dam were 
considered strongholds and crucial 
at least for this initial survey. 

The IBA programme in Kenya 
needs to increase its efforts in 
monitoring, raising awareness and 
making contacts for formation 
of local Site Support Groups as 
crucial first steps. Our survey has 
identified areas that need more 
focus. This survey will continue for 
the next few months, with breaks in 
between, in order to collect baseline 
data for implementing some of 
those initiatives. 


November 2006 Kenya Birds, Volume 11:2 

Aberdare Cisticola adult 
(right) and immature (be- 
low), and researchers in 
highland grassland. 

Photos by Mercy Mwanika and 
Chege Kariuki 

HP BK a 





The East Alrica Nature History Society 

Kenya Birds volume 11:2 November 2006 ISSN 1023-3679